The Most Frustrating but Useful Way To Learn a Language

The Most Frustrating but Useful Way To Learn a Language

When I arrived for my first ever Korean language class, my professor speaking only Korean to a room full of uncomprehending students was far beyond what I could have ever expected. That first 50-minute class felt like it stretched on for an eternity as she gave us simple words or phrases, acted them out, had us repeat them, and proceeded to repeat the process. When she said “읽어요” (“read” – “ilg-eoyo”) we were supposed to mimic flipping through a book. “안녕하세요” (“hello” – “annyeonghaseyo”) told us to wave, 들어요 (“listen” – “deul-eoyo”) had us cup a hand to our ear, etc. Although we probably only learned to recognize the sound of about ten words in our first class, hearing words in a language I was almost entirely unfamiliar with was incredibly overwhelming.

The learning process

Our entire first week of daily classes continued in a similar manner, expanding from simple words to a few sentences and I was beginning to lose hope, wondering if our entire semester would consist of learning Korean simply through listening to a phrase, watching our professor try to act out the phrase, and repeating it with terrible pronunciation. It was a jarring switch from how I had studied Japanese and Spanish and I was not sure how effective this learning method would be. And then we reached our next week of classes and, in English, my professor finally explained the purpose behind our unconventional first lessons: to take a bunch of students unfamiliar with Korean and surrounded them with the language so there would be some level of familiarity before we began learning the alphabet and pronunciation that is vastly different from English.

And although we were only able to spend a week simply listening and mimicking, the benefit was clear. Although 한글 (“the Korean alphabet” – “hangul”) has no similarities to the English alphabet I’m familiar with (unlike, for example, Spanish), it was less overwhelming to start to learn because I had already become familiar with many of the sounds. I had spent a week listening to the language and now I was learning how to write down the sounds I had already heard. I felt immense satisfaction when I was finally able to write some of the words I had spent the week listening to and, inspired, I began to dive into listening practice as my primary form of Korean study. 

Learning a language can be incredibly frustrating, here is the number one tip to efficiently maximize your studying!

The (often frustrating) method

As someone who has studied three languages (not including English) I have been exposed to many different ways of approaching language study and over time have developed the techniques that most efficiently help me learn vocabulary and grammatical concepts. But by far, the most effective tool is what my Korean professor taught me in the first week of class and I have slowly developed the idea into the most practical self-study skill for myself: listening practice.

Currently, I am furthering my Korean and Japanese studies on my own, albeit I am at very different levels with each language. I am a conversational Korean speaker but basically relearning Japanese from scratch, so the types of content I listen to differ since I am trying to learn very different levels of vocabulary and grammar for both languages. However, in general, the approach I take for both languages is very similar. Every day I try to listen to two types of Korean and Japanese content: content without subtitles and content with subtitles. 

Application

Content without subtitles can be incredibly frustrating. I tend to use YouTube, podcasts, music, and even ASMR to practice listening to conversations or songs that might contain vocabulary I am trying to learn. Right now for my Korean study, I am focusing on business-related vocabulary so I am watching a lot of news reports that talk about businesses or the economy. In contrast, Japanese vloggers on YouTube narrating their daily lives are more likely to have the basic vocabulary I’m studying. Certainly, I get frustrated because I am usually not able to comprehend everything they are saying but becoming familiar with hearing and recognizing the vocabulary before I study it drastically helps me in the memorization process. 

Content with subtitles is not only also helpful but is useful in encouraging me to continue studying. Having English subtitles on my screen while watching variety shows, dramas, or anime allows me to actually enjoy the content I am watching. I am able to follow along with the story and enjoy it while also still focusing on listening to the content and associating it with the English translation. 

It is worth noting that a mix of watching variety shows and dramas/anime is useful because variety shows have very natural, unrehearsed conversations that are more akin to normal speaking, while drama/anime dialogue is more stilted and unnatural, but has proper grammar. But notably, variety shows often have people talking over each other and at a faster pace than scripted content, so I currently only stick to anime for my basic Japanese study.

These two types of listening practice combined are incredibly effective in immersing me in two languages that otherwise my English-speaking household would not expose me to. And through listening, I become familiar with vocabulary and grammar I have not yet studied as well as recognize what I have previously studied and continue to refresh my brain. 

My typical schedule

Monday:

  • 5-10 minutes of Korean content without subtitles
  • 5-10 minutes of Japanese content without subtitles
  • 1 hour (approximately) of a Korean variety show with subtitles

Tuesday:

  • 5-10 minutes of same Korean content without subtitles
  • 5-10 minutes of same Japanese content without subtitles
  • 1 hour (approximately) of a Japanese anime with subtitles

Wednesday:

  • 5-10 minutes of same Korean content without subtitles
  • 5-10 minutes of same Japanese content without subtitles
  • 1 hour (approximately) of a Korean drama with subtitles

Thursday:

  • 5-10 minutes of same Korean content without subtitles
  • 5-10 minutes of same Japanese content without subtitles
  • 1 hour (approximately) of a Japanese anime with subtitles

Friday:

  • 5-10 minutes of same Korean content without subtitles
  • 5-10 minutes of same Japanese content without subtitles
  • 1 hour (approximately) of Korean content with subtitles (I alternate between variety 
  • shows & dramas)

Saturday & Sunday:

  • An enjoyable amount of time on Korean and Japanese content with subtitles 
Learning a language can be incredibly frustrating, here is the number one tip to efficiently maximize your studying!

Studying language by yourself is an incredibly difficult process and finding the motivation to do a bit of practice every day can be next to impossible. But I have personally found that listening practice is the most effective way to start to pick up vocabulary and grammar before you begin to officially study it. So my personal goal is to always do at least some sort of listening practice daily to maintain my self-study. 

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